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EXCLUSIVE BENEFITS

Trump is trying to make it too expensive for poor American immigrants to stay

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
An expensive status
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Reporter

Updated on Dec. 10

Many of the immigration policies enacted by the administration of US president Donald Trump in the last year have been so shocking they’ve made headlines worldwide: family separation, zero tolerance, detained children, to name a few.

But not all of Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration have been so dramatic. In many cases, the administration has chipped away at the avenues for immigration through small bureaucratic changes, like the recent proposal to increase immigration-related fees.

On Nov. 14, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a review of the fees required to apply for various immigration services. The proposal is open for comments until Dec. 30. After that, once the comments are reviewed and fees are confirmed, the changes will become effective.

The changes affect a broad range of applications, from green cards through marriage, to naturalization fees, to DACA renewals (though new DACA applications aren’t allowed, existing ones can be renewed).

The new fee structure would also introduce a $50 fee for asylum applications, which would make the United States one of just a handful of countries—including Iran, Australia and Fiji—that don’t offer free asylum applications.

“It’s not a huge fee,” Kevin Johnson, dean of the school of law at the University of California, Davis, told Quartz. “But it is a huge fee to those who often come at the border with nothing.”

The new fees are essentially aimed at tightening the so-called “public charge exclusion,” or reducing the number of people whose immigration applications are rejected because they might require financial support from the US government.

Although some of the proposed fee adjustments are reductions, the overall package increases the fees of immigration-related applications by 21%. Some of the increases are small—for instance, the application to obtain travel documents for a minor will increase from $135 to $145. And the fee for a refugee who is a minor will go from $105 to $115.

Other hikes, however, are far more significant. The application to become a naturalized citizen will increase from $640 to $1,170, and although the current $85 fee for biometrics collection (mandatory for the application) will be dropped, the total increase will still be $445. That’s a 60% hike. People might forgo applying for citizenship because of this fee, which makes them more vulnerable to losing immigration benefits. Unlike citizenship, which can be revoked only if obtained fraudulently or for serious crimes, permanent residence can be lost for a range of criminal activity (including the broad category of “moral turpitude”), as well as for leaving the country for several months at a time.

Applying for a green card through marriage from within the United States would also be far more expensive if the new policies are approved. The full application for that will increase by $1,000 (to $2,750). For those applying from outside the United States, the cost will remain unchanged.

Renewal of DACA status would also go up significantly, from $495 to $725. By comparison, the last fee increase for DACA was in 2016 and just $30. Several comments posted to the proposal raised concern that the fee puts a heavy burden on DACA recipients: “I am a DACA recipient and it’s already difficult for me to pay the $495.00 renewal fee. Raising the fee to over $725.00 would bring more hardship on the 700k DACA recipients in the USA and myself,” wrote one commentator. “[DACA renewal is] a service you are doing, services should be [m]aintainable for low-income folk who depend on these services,” wrote another.

“The fees may in some cases price people out of the market,” Johnson said. The measure, he says, is consistent with the administration’s goal to not just reduce the number of immigrants, but to make it harder for low- and medium-income people to secure their immigration benefits.

Other fee increases are even more striking. The application for suspension of deportation, for instance, would jump from $285 or $570—depending on the case—to $1,800. The application for a passport waiver, which allows legal residents of the United States who do not hold a passport from their country of origin to leave and re-enter the country, would increase from $585 to a whopping $2,790. Requests for the United States to give the applicant a copy of their own personal immigration records would also become more expensive, from $62 to $385.

All these changes appear aimed to encourage immigrants and asylum seekers from lower economic classes from either deciding to enter the country to begin with, or to self-deport because they can’t afford to stay, or to give up applying for certain immigration benefits because they are too costly.

“I don’t think we have seen any modern president engage in an effort to reduce the number of immigrants the way this president has,” Johnson said. “we are in a very different immigration environment that we have been in the past 50 years.”

Update: The story has been updated to reflect an extension of the comment period, which will be open till Dec. 30, 2019.

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